The Best Beaches in New Zealand

The idyllic Whale Bay on the Tutukaka Coast in the North Island
The idyllic Whale Bay on the Tutukaka Coast in the North Island | © Greg Balfour Evans / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Thalita Alves
11 September 2020

When you’re in New Zealand, a day at the beach is never too far away. No matter where you end up going, you’ll be able to relish an array of pristine harbours and rugged shorelines among other magnificent coastal treasures. Here are the country’s most extraordinary beaches and coastlines to inspire you.

Totaranui Beach

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Totaranui Beach, Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson Region, South Island, New Zealand
© Greg Balfour Evans / Alamy Stock Photo
Among the sheltered gems nestled within Abel Tasman National Park, you’ll find the spectacular Totaranui Beach. With clear, blue waters and golden sands, this is the ideal spot to unwind after a spot of trekking – either by cooling down with a swim, or trying your hand at kayaking and fishing. There’s also a campground nearby if you want to spend a little longer taking in your surroundings.

Mount Maunganui Beach

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In the summer months, visitors from all corners of New Zealand flock to the Bay of Plenty to spend some time at Mount Maunganui Beach. There’s a reason for this: not only is the beach incredibly picturesque, with white sands and its namesake mountain adorning the landscapes, but it also offers good surf breaks and even better swimming conditions.

Hahei Beach

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Hahei is probably the most recognisable beach adorning the Coromandel Peninsula. Those familiar with these shores will know that Hahei is close to some of the other local crowd-pleasers including Hot Water Beach – where you can dig a hole in the sand to create your hot pool – and Cathedral Cove, famed for its cameo in The Chronicles of Narnia films. Hahei, in particular, is a good spot for a bout of sea kayaking.

Koekohe Beach

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Located in the Otago coastlines between the towns of Moeraki and Hampden, Koekohe Beach is known to marvel geologists and nature lovers alike with the extraordinary rock concretions clustered around its shores. The famous Moeraki Boulders, some reaching more than 2m (6.6ft) in diameter, are the result of several millions of years’ worth of coastal erosion.

Punakaiki

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Punakaiki rocks in New Zealand
© Oliver Förstner / Alamy Stock Photo

Part of New Zealand’s rocky West Coast, Punakaiki Beach is renowned for its layered Pancake Rocks and surrounding blowholes. The beach is also noteworthy for its limestone gorges, fishing and kayaking spots, as well as the surrounding coastal and forested tracks that take visitors from the seaside into neighbouring Paparoa National Park.

Ninety Mile Beach

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Venture along to the far north of the North Island to reach the spectacular Ninety Mile Beach. Its coastline begins just north of Kaitaia, and stretches 88km (or 55 miles) towards Cape Reinga along the Aupouri Peninsula. This beach is desirable for its left-hand surf breaks, four-wheel drive-accessible sands, as well as being a prime spot for fishing – there’s an abundance of snapper (a white-flesh fish) to be caught along its waters.

Whale Bay

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Part of the Tutukaka Coast, Whale Bay is the place to bask at some of New Zealand’s most pristine white sands while you’re immersing yourself in a lush forested scenery. This beach is a good spot for picnics, swimming and snorkelling. Head to the grove-lined bushes to access several walking tracks that connect Whale Bay to Matapouri Bay and other sheltered beaches lying in between.

Matapouri Bay

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Matapouri Bay is a white-sand beach with a peaceful estuary right on its doorstep. At low tide, the beach reveals its most incredible feature: the Mermaid Pools – a series of picturesque rock pools that are ideal for freshwater swimming. Walking tracks flanked by bush-lined headlands are another fantastic feature. The local estuary is another desirable swimming spot: it’s so safe that the locals leap off its bridge during high tide to plunge into the otherwise peaceful waters.

Piha

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Piha Beach with Lion Rock in the background, New Zealand
The stunning Piha Beach with Lion Rock in the background | © MJ Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Piha is one of the most famous beaches on Auckland’s West Coast. Ruggedness is a strong part of its appeal: not only because of the turbulent wave swells that make this a desirable surfing destination, but also because this beach offers an impressive backdrop that has inspired cinematic feats – Piha was one of the key settings for the feature film, The Piano.

Ohope Beach

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Ohope Beach is located in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, just 10km (6.2mi) east from the coastal town of Whakatane. With consistently warm waters and safe swimming conditions, this is a great go-to for holidaying families. You can also explore the surrounding islands by kayak or boat, and a handful of other white-sand beaches are merely a quick coastal walk away.

Oriental Bay

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Oriental Bay is one of Wellington’s most popular beaches. Its proximity to the city centre is a definite drawcard, but it’s the serene shores and safe swimming conditions that keep the crowds coming back. Whenever the weather’s bright and sunny in the capital city, this beach in particular comes alive with activity: you can see people walking their dogs by the promenade, sitting by the sands with some ice cream and admiring the fantastic vistas on show.

Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly, Dog Friendly, Accessible (Wheelchair)

Castlepoint

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Castlepoint is located on the Wairarapa Coast, just 50 minutes outside of Masterton in the wider Wellington Region. The beach has become adored by New Zealand summer crowds because of its historic lighthouse (which is one of the last two remaining beam houses in the country), its photogenic lagoon, rocky fishing spots and highly regarded surf breaks. If you’re walking up to the lighthouse, make sure to keep an eye out for the native seabirds and native fur seals that call the area home.

Wharariki Beach

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Wharariki beach
© Top-Pics TBK / Alamy Stock Photo

Wharariki Beach is one of the most picturesque beaches in Golden Bay, near a secluded village for alternative lifestylers at the top of the South Island. With its spectacular rock arches, giant dunes and farm paddocks in the background, this isolated beach situated at the Western point of Cape Farewell is as far north as you can get on New Zealand’s South Island.

Tunnel Beach

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Tunnel Beach is nestled 8.6km (5.3mi) southwest of Dunedin. A collection of sea-carved sandstone cliffs, rock arches and caverns make this quite a spectacular piece of coastline. The beach is also noteworthy for its accessible nature: a short walking track will lead you to the secluded shores, where you can catch a glimpse of some fossilised remains, mysterious carvings and the man-made tunnel that continues to captivate the masses.

Wainui Beach

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© Design Pics / Alamy Stock Photo

Wainui Beach is a top surfing destination in Gisborne. The beach, which is part of the East Coast of the North Island, is noteworthy for its consistent left- and right-hand surf breaks, as well as offering good swimming conditions and lots of picturesque picnic spots. While you’re in the area, go for a stroll along the trails that run adjacent to the beach’s dunes, and also stop by the neighbouring Makorori Beach to get the most out of the waves that make this town such a hit among local and international surfers alike.

Oakura Beach

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Oakura is a family-friendly beach in Taranaki, just 15 minutes south of New Plymouth. Its namesake village and the picturesque shoreline is known to attract the keenest of surfers – the beach is particularly attractive for those who are just starting on the waves, as it is well patrolled and offers consistent wave conditions.

Kaikoura Beach

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The Seaward Kaikoura Range and the town of Kaikoura on a clear spring morning. The town is an important tourist destination...
© travellinglight / Alamy Stock Photo

Take a walk on the rocky shore of Kaikoura Beach, on the South Island’s Northeast Coast. With the snow-capped Kaikoura Ranges towering in the background, this wild beach is a great place to see marine life in the distance. Look out for whales and dusky dolphins, or penguins and seals closer to the shore on one of the nearby coastal pathways.

Kaiteriteri Beach

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Situated at the top of the South Island is Kaiteriteri Beach. With its golden sand and aquamarine waters of the bay, this beach is popular with adventure seekers and families alike. Overlooking the Richmond Range on the other side of the Tasman Bay, this idyllic beach offers calm waters for relaxed swimming and kayaking. It is also the departure point for water shuttles into the Abel Tasman National Park.

New Brighton Beach

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New Brighton Beach is the most popular place to hang out on a warm summer’s day in Christchurch. This long beach is great for families and beginner surfers with its gentle waves. The famous long pier is perfect for an afternoon walk while enjoying an ice cream after a day at the beach.

Haast Beach

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Part river mouth, part bay, part beach, Haast on the South Island’s West Coast is one of the most beautiful coastal areas to visit in New Zealand. The sparkling waters of the nearby Haast River run to the rugged and wild Haast Beach, and while not known for the best swimming and water sports, this delightful area is worth a visit for those hunting for inspiring, desolate and dramatic coastline scenery.

Additional reporting by Bianca Ackroyd

These recommendations were updated on September 11, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.